US workers show little improvement in 21st century skills

© Reuters/BRENDAN MCDERMID   Workers prepare orders in the kitchen at the newest Chopt Creative Salad Co., location in New York

By Virginia Van Natta, Bloomberg

U.S. workers are failing to improve the skills needed to succeed in an increasingly global economy, according to a government agency report released Friday.

The National Center for Education Statistics asked 3,300 respondents ages 16-to-65 to read simple passages and solve basic math problems. What the researchers found is that literacy, numeracy and digital problem-solving ability in the U.S. have stagnated over the past few years.

Some 19% of the test-takers ranked at the lowest of three levels for literacy and 24% lacked basic digital problem-solving abilities.

Meanwhile, a shocking 29% performed at the lowest level for numeracy, the same as findings from the previous study conducted in 2012-2014. Almost one in three couldn’t correctly answer “how much gas is in a 24-gallon tank if the gas gauge reads three-quarters full.”  

© Bloomberg   Skills Shortage

“These results are another signal that many Americans struggle with the most basic of math skills,” NCES Associate Commissioner Peggy Carr said in a statement. “We need to better equip Americans with the numeracy skills that they need for success, starting in middle and high school.”

There were a few bright spots among the research. Latino adults saw their overall scores improve in both literacy and digital problem solving. Some 35% ranked at the highest of three levels for the latter, up from 24% during the 2012-2014 survey period.

In addition, high school graduation rates climbed 2 percentage-points to 14%, while the percentage of people with more than a high school diploma jumped 3 percentage-points to 48%.

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